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Scottish beach boy causes ripples in Californian surf


Beach management research based on the Angus, Scotland, coastline is causing ripples in California, thanks to the work of an Abertay postgraduate.

Andrew Staines, (age 26), researching beach management systems for his PhD, has forged a link with Pepperdine University in Malibu. The link could prove important not only for Scottish-Californian links, but also for bathing water quality in the North Sea and the Pacific in years to come.

Andrew’s research, currently funded by Catchment Tay ltd, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and Angus Council, is developing better systems of beach management and public awareness. The systems are needed ahead of new, more comprehensive European Union regulations on bathing water quality, due to come into force in 2011.

He is working under the auspices of the Urban Water Technology Centre within the recently established Abertay Bathing Water Research Group which has close links with the Tay Estuary Forum. It was while preparing a presentation for the Forum that Andrew made contact with Professor Karen Martin at Pepperdine University.

Professor Martin is an authority on fish known as grunion and is researching a better understanding of their habits and habitats. She invited Andrew to spend 1 month over the summer as the guest of Pepperdine University to give seminars and talks on the state of research and public policy on beaches in Europe.

Andrew’s work in Angus has focussed on how beach management in Europe will have to take account of both environmental needs and human demands under the new legislation. This includes the use of the common mussel to indicate the quality, or ‘health’, of beaches and bathing waters.

Andrew said: “Scotland, and Europe, is ahead of even environmentally-conscious California when it comes to beach management. The new regulations should go even further in integrating ecosystem health and human safety into progressive beach management, and of course they will apply equally to all beaches in the European Union.

“This is different from California, where human requirements for ‘tidy’ beaches suitable for leisure and sport often take precedence over ecological concerns, plus the fact that local laws mean that beach management and standards can vary across the state.

“Professor Martin and her colleagues are particularly interested in how we in Europe focus on good communications with beach users and the wider public in beach management. That’s at the heart of the new regulations, and that’s where my research is focussed.”

Which is where the Angus mussels come in: Andrew is looking at how they could be used to indicate the health of a beach much more quickly than previous systems.

“Monitoring the mussels on the beach could give a result within five or six hours,” said Andrew. “This means we could assess conditions in the evening and give beach users the next morning a pretty good hint as to what to expect, which could be more useful than testing bacteria alone, or guessing the likely impact of rainfall inland which might/might not wash pollutants from a variety of sources down to the beach sometime over the next two or three days.”

Andrew has been interested in the subject since doing his first degree in Biotechnology at Abertay. He followed that with a Masters degree in Urban water and environmental management at Abertay’s long-established Urban Water Technology Centre in 2002, before winning European funding to start his PhD research in 2003. Catchment Tay ltd, SEPA and Angus Council are now funding the final year of the project.

Kevin Coe | alfa
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